Seeing the Light
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light
So Isaiah said about the child who would come to multi-ethnic Galilee. Light is a great help to people who are in the dark, especially people who are in the dark about God.
Some people think that they can light a fire (or use a torch) to find God in the darkness. But one might just as successfully use a torch to find the sun at midnight. Of course God is not in the darkness. If he was there it would not be dark.
Others may think that the light of God is provided so that we can find our way around. Perhaps that is because we think it is like a tool that can be used to light up other things. But the Bible thinks it is the light itself which will be seen by the people in the dark. And the reason is so that they can see the light itself. So that God himself can be known by people who are spiritually in the dark.
But how can we be sure that Jesus is this light? One way we could approach this is to look for some kind of proof that what he said is true, maybe some kind of logical, scientific or historical proof. But while logic, science, and history will give us strong confirmation of the truth of Jesus' claims, the truthfulness of his claims does not depend on these outside referees. There is no higher court of appeal than Jesus to which we could go in order to check out his claims. If we put our rationality above Jesus' own word, we have put ourselves above him.
The simplest way is to look at the light. If he is the true light that shines in the darkness it ought to be fairly obvious – at least for those who look into it. Looking into the light means allowing Jesus to reveal God to us, in his way, with his words. We must let into our minds what Jesus has said and done. Then we will see the light. Then we will see God. And so we urge people to look at the light himself
Suitable only for ...
Is Christmas really a kids’ event? Certainly there are many aspects of the story that children enjoy, even if it has been romanticised and sentimentalised. And everyone likes babies I suppose.
But a lot of the stories read more like women’s stories, especially as Luke tells them. Two pregnant cousinsspending three months together until the first one gives birth, is a grown ups story, full of adult themes which are probably beyond the understanding of children.
And as for the men, many probably feel a bit like Zechariah, unable to say anything, and feeling excluded from the women’s world.
But the Bible narrative does not support such exclusion, or ignorance. While Luke does not give much attention to Joseph, Matthew does. Both Joseph and Mary are toldmore or less the same things. They are told adult things to do with the future tasks and role of their son. Luke includes a group of ordinary male workers in his story. They are given information about the child in such a way that they are terrified.
It is interesting that men should be terrified, especially men who are used to the dark and protecting their animals from predators and thieves. One imagines that down at the Shepherds’ Crook watering hole for a long time afterward there was much discussion about the terror they experienced.
They were not just frightened, they too were given adult information about the future role of the child, in fact such amazing information that the terror was probably forgotten in the subsequent discussions. All the adults involved were given profound explanations of who this child was and what he would do. It is a story that can only be fully appreciated by adults.
And yet the shepherds were given a baby sign that what they had heard was true – they would find a baby wrapped up in cloths lying in a feeding trough. There is something very paradoxical about the stories of Jesus’ birth. But then the birth itself is a paradox. The human child of Mary is to be called Son of God – presumably because he was.
There are amazing elements in the story that exhaust the understanding of adults, and yet the story is absolutely suitable for children. It is the great children’s story, about a baby born to be ruler and saviour of the world. Children, as much as adults, can read the story in wonder, and hope, and desire to be part of the kingdom of that child.
What is Christmas really about?
Here some possible conversation spices for the festive season.
• Christmas is really about the great God-invasion. When he stuck his face in ours.
• Christmas shows you what God thinks of humans – he became one of us (but so does Good Friday – pity about that: he put us to death!).
• Christmas means peace on earth – as long as you are at peace with God.
• It must have been a confusing time at Jesus' birth. A blinding light-show, super-rich visitors from half way around the world, local smelly shepherds, an animals' feeding trough as a bassinet, a dad who was a tradesman (well that was good anyway), and a serious attempt to murder him by the political elite. Actually it was quite a good start for someone whose task was to bring together a new united humanity.
• Do you think Jesus was a difficult teenager – he was certainly a difficult adult?
• Do you think Joseph’s dad said, “Tell Joseph he’s dreaming!”?
• Were the wise men really nutters? Can you imagine anyone doing that nowadays?
• What do you think Mary and Joseph did with the gold, frankincense and myrrh? What would you have done with it?
• Did you know that there probably was no inn? It was really the guest room in a house that was full. [The word is used in the NT also in Mark 14.14.] How would you like to have a baby in an overcrowded two-room house?
• Would it have made a difference if Joseph was really the father?
• Your spicy question/comment: “ ............................................”
Am I a Straight Person?
This is not a question about sexuality or mainstream values, but about inner straightness before God and others. An important New Testament text (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) for the gospel of justification by grace through faith alone, is Habakkuk 2:4. This can be literally translated as, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not straight within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
The proud and self-sufficient are different on the inside to what they show on the outside. Self-reliant people must project having it all together and are part of a “crooked and twisted generation” (Deut 32:5; Ps 125:3-5; Matt 17:17; Phil 2:15). In Jesus’ day, like our generation, “experts”, not psychologists, image gurus, politicians or scientists, but scribes and Pharisees, experts in the Law of Moses, had all the answers and were telling others how they should live. Christians should never look to someone other than the Lord as to how to live. Our righteousness involves living by faith.
Faith is a powerful remedy for any temptation to be something other than who we are in Christ. John Calvin helpfully expounds Habakkuk 2:4, “that faith which strips us of all arrogance, and leads us naked and needy to God, that we may seek salvation from him alone”. This exhortation leads us to reflect on the cross.
There’s nothing straighter than the brutal simplicity of the death of Jesus where “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2). As “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2) Jesus died by faith alone despite the mockeries of opponents about his broken appearance (Matt 27:29, 37; Luke 23:35). What he was in the eyes of men meant nothing to the Lord of glory.
Straightness of soul means depending on God’s grace alone regardless of how we see ourselves or the opinions of others. Depending on the life and death of Christ alone to be right with God means to live free from pride and the fear of being judged by the Lord or twisted human beings! This freedom to be our true selves in Christ is wonderful beyond words (John 8:36), it is gospel “good news” to be shared with all those folks out there trying to live by someone else’s opinion.
Are we there yet?
Advent Sunday can be the start of a confusing time. We know it has something to do with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. But with at least two comings to deal with, it is easy to get disoriented.
And that is without taking into account a couple of other comings that are mentioned in the Bible.
Most of us don’t have that frustrated urgency of the children in the back seat of the car wondering whether they have reached their holiday destination before they have even got onto the main highway. Many of us have settled into the frame of mind of the endless serial that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A sort of Home and Away religion. So is Jesus returning? After so long?
Old Anna the prophet probably wondered the same thing. The promises about the coming King had been around for a long time. Five hundred years at least. And apart from a few exciting, but inconsequential, false starts nothing had happened.
And then he came. As a baby! But not, apparently, from any of the powerful families. Not even from a Jerusalem family. No connections. Hard to believe really. But Anna was excited because she had been told who the baby was.
Thirty years later he had done nothing. And when he did start to get the attention of the public, half the time he was out in the back-blocks. And he gave no encouragement to any kind of political kingdom such as David ruled over.
But things seemed promising when he started a long journey to Jerusalem. Well, it took a long time to get there. Not many of his friends were asking, “Are we there yet?” because they knew it was a dangerous place. Fraught with peril and possible death.
And finally he came to Jerusalem - amid great celebration and fanfare. In fact as you read the story it was the Temple he came to. Came to replace it, it seems.
And then it was all over in a week. Dead. Buried. So much for the coming King. And then he came again - alive, puzzling, claiming to be the King of everything. And then he went again.
Six weeks later he sent his substitute. The Spirit of the risen Jesus was now with them permanently, until … Until he comes again he is with us and his Spirit is the guarantee that he will return. Maybe today. But what should we be doing in the meantime?